This month’s guest post is contributed by Tali Perelman of KitchenTown. KitchenTown is an incubator and innovation hub for food startups in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a specialty in plant-based and better-for-you companies. Now in its fourth year of partnership with Barilla’s venture group, BLU1877, Kitchentown helps manage the Good Food Makers corporate accelerator program — and has learned a lot about what makes accelerator programs work. Considering applying for or joining one? Want to know what to look for? Here are eight ways a good corporate accelerator program can help grow your business — and quickly.
1. Form long-term relationships
Of all the benefits an accelerator provides, relationships rise to the top. As your company grows, you will likely encounter hurdles that are very specific to your company. Those hurdles may be about product, brand, operations, or otherwise. When you’re stuck, having a knowledgeable advisor who cares about your success and knows the industry like the back of their hand is invaluable.
Especially after a year-plus where everyone went virtual due to Covid-19, general education is abundant. It’s easy to find workshops and tutorials. It’s much harder to find a long-term mentor: someone you can call when the formula just isn’t gelling, the legal requirements just don’t make sense, or a business opportunity arises and you need to think through how to respond to it. A good corporate accelerator program will help you find those mentors.
Good Food Makers spotlight: The Organic Pantry Co.
Theresa Petry of The Organic Pantry Co. makes gluten-free crackers with a very unique batter (“my secret sauce”). She’s gaining distribution fast and is ready to scale production, but finding the right co-manufacturer who can accommodate her certification and formulation requirements and grow with her has been tricky.
For Theresa, the most pivotal outcome from BLU1877’s Good Food Makers was finding trusted experts. They helped her refine her production process so it was ready to scale. They attended pilot trials, and introduced her to other valuable providers in their network. Years after the program, Theresa’s partners at Barilla are still the ones she calls when she runs into technical issues.
2. De-risk your venture in the eyes of investors
Investing in early-stage teams is risky. But if you’re already partnered with a well-known, well-established company like Barilla, funders will take note. Your company already got the green light from a valuable player, meaning you come “pre-approved,” and your chances for fundraising success are high.
Good Food Makers spotlight: ReGrained
Dan Kurzrock, co-founder of ReGrained, upcycles spent grain from the beer-making process into a nutritious Supergrain+ that can be converted into all sorts of applications. He participated in BLU1877’s Good Food Makers while his company was in an earlier, exploratory phase. “We were able to understand how our ingredient performs in different applications,” Dan said, “not just for ourselves, but also to have a stronger story for potential investors: there’s something real here, and it’s been vetted by one of the most respected and prominent food companies.”
3. Zoom out of your usual workflow to imagine what else is possible
Maybe you come into an accelerator with very strong ideas on what path your company will follow, who you want to partner with, and your ideal end consumer. For you, the program is an opportunity for a short burst of productive energy that fuels inspiration and momentum.
But maybe you’re still exploring. Maybe you have a good idea and want to see what else is possible. For you, the program is more of an innovation playground — an opportunity to take a step back, zoom out, and play a different game. Maybe there’s a different audience or use case you hadn’t imagined; maybe you’re D2C, but your potential for B2B is huge; maybe you take a short detour that eventually becomes your main path.
It’s useful to have a time-bound space to experiment, where you can test, fail, and try again. Treat it like a wide-open sprint with no consequences — every idea is good until proven otherwise.
Good Food Makers spotlight: reBLEND & Plant Jammer
reBLEND, who makes shelf-stable, portable smoothies from surplus fresh produce, originally targeted office buildings. During their accelerator experience, they realized the huge potential for a mom-and-kid audience. Plant Jammer, a digital tool that helps eliminate home food waste by making recipe-searching algorithms better, explored new partnerships with meal kits and CSA boxes to put their tech to use during their eight-week experience.
4. Access cross-sectional mentorship
As a small, nimble startup, your team is likely small. Perhaps it’s even a team of one? Your responsibility is to dabble in everything, wear every hat, make millions of decisions, and definitely not to specialize. At least, not yet. This level of breadth, though, limits your level of depth.
A large corporate office operates in, basically, exactly the opposite fashion: full-time specialists who go deep, not wide. Having their technical and industry expertise on your side is a huge asset, especially when they’re all in the same room. The nutritionist can put guardrails on the R&D team; the engineers help guide the operations. This ability to have both the bird’s- and worm’s-eye view is the ultimate powerhouse.
5. Learn from a vertically-integrated company who’s already nailed the operational pieces
You probably founded your company with a big idea and a lot of passion. But making it happen requires endless operational pieces to fall into place, from innovation to manufacturing, supply chain to marketing. The kind of large corporations that power corporate accelerator programs are likely vertically-integrated: they have a cohesive network of partners, they’ve done it all before, and they can definitely answer your questions (or offer some intros).
6. Gain transparency into the decision-making process of a large corporate
A corporate accelerator program provides great practice operating in a bigger, more formal setting. You may never have as many employees as they do, but you will (hopefully!) get much bigger than you are now, and need to learn how to work and communicate as a larger team.
Gaining visibility into their everyday work structures, too, can help you optimize your product and marketing efforts for that kind of client. Once you learn to communicate and present your work to senior audiences, and clearly understand how to position compelling visions of the future in a way that resonates with important decision-makers, you’ll be unstoppable.
Good Food Makers spotlight: Renewal Mill
For Renewal Mill, who converts sidestreams from tofu and non-dairy milk production into flours, baking mixes, and cookies, participating in Good Food Makers was a key turning point in their growth. “How does a company as big as Barilla think about procuring ingredients, for example?” said Claire Schlemme, co-founder. “Now we know, and we have everything buttoned up and ready to scale.”
7. Explore the impact of your good idea at scale
The world of social-impact startups in food is exploding: founders who want to divert food waste, replace footprint-heavy proteins with lighter plant-based ones, create healthier versions of previously indulgent snacks … the list is endless. Can you imagine bringing those ideas to scale? Can you imagine partnering with an influential voice who wants to help you sway a larger swath of the food system? That’s when we’ll really start to see rippling change.
8. Recognize what makes your company special
Of course, an accelerator is a two-way street. You’re bringing a lot of value to the corporate partner, too, who gets an inside look at your scrappy process, how you make such quick pivots, and the ways you keep audiences so personally engaged. This is an opportunity to see your company from an external lens and evaluate a little more objectively. What are they seeing in you that makes your brand special? What parts of what you’ve built should you definitely keep, even as you scale? Reflect, reinforce, and keep the parts that work.
Learn more about the Good Food Makers corporate accelerator program
Applications are open now for BLU1877’s Good Food Makers. It’s an eight-week pilot program for early-stage teams to collaborate with a dedicated Barilla team and solve immediate food system and business challenges.
We love this program because it brings genuine value to both parties. Each of the three previous cohorts have discovered actionable solutions and new innovations, and forged long-lasting relationships. There is no cost or equity to participate, and entries are open to companies anywhere in the world.
In 2021, Barilla’s BLU1877 is looking for Circular Economy, Digital Nutrition Guides, Easy Meal Routines, and Better Food Delivery. Sound like you? Apply now.